This creamy, nutty, fluffy crowd-pleaser can be made a few hours before a party and refrigerated. Bring to the buffet table whole, then cut in slices and serve on cake plates.
For the sponge:
1 cup pine nuts, untoasted
12 large eggs, separated
1 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 lemon
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1½ cups sifted all-purpose flour
For the butter cream frosting:
8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
8 ounces (1cup) cream cheese, at room temperature
2 cups confectioners’ sugar
4-6 tablespoons heavy cream, more as needed
1 egg yolk (optional)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Grated zest of ½ lemon
For the topping:
2½ cups pine nuts, toasted
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
2. Begin making the sponge: Lightly butter and flour two 10″circles of parchment paper cut to fit two 10″ spring form cake pans. Place them in the pans—butter sides up—and set aside.
3. Purée the cup of untoasted pine nuts in a food processor until they resemble smooth peanut butter, pausing once or twice to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Next, using an electric mixer, beat the 12 egg yolks and ⅓ of the granulated sugar at medium-high speed until thick in texture, light in color, and the batter forms a ribbon when the mixer blades are raised from the batter. Beat in the vanilla, lemon zest and the pureed pine nuts until just blended.
4. Clean the mixer blades well and, in a clean bowl, beat the egg whites with them until frothy. With the mixer running, gradually add the salt, and the remaining ⅔ cup of sugar. Continue to whip the mixture until the whites stand in soft peaks, drooping just a bit when you raise the mixer blades.
5. Gently fold the egg whites, ⅓ at a time, into the yolk mixture. To keep the mixture light and airy, it is not necessary to entirely incorporate the whites before the next addition. In the same fashion, fold in the 1½ cups of flour in thirds, completely incorporating the mixture after the final addition. Divide the batter between the cake pans, place in the oven and bake until a skewer inserted into the cakes comes out clean, 25-30 minutes. Place pans on a rack to cool completely. When cool, cut carefully around the inner circumference of the cake pans and remove the cakes. Place cakes back on racks, and reserve.
6. Make the butter cream: With the electric mixer, cream the butter and cream cheese, occasionally scraping down the sides of the bowl. Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar, followed by a few tablespoons of cream and the optional egg yolk. Beat in the vanilla, lemon juice, lemon zest and additional cream as needed, to produce a frosting that is easily spreadable. (You may make the butter cream in advance, and store it in the refrigerator—but allow it to warm slightly before use.)
7. Assemble the cake: Combine ⅓ of the frosting with ½ cup of the toasted pine nuts. Place one cooled cake on the counter, or on a cake stand. Evenly spread the frosting with the pine nuts on top of the first cake. Top with the second cake, flattest side down. Evenly spread the remaining frosting (which has no pine nuts) over the entire cake top and sides. Then cover the entire cake, top and sides, with the remaining 2 cups of pine nuts. When applying them to the sides, gently press them into the frosting in small handfuls.
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